by Emily Reuben
To be blunt, “Doubling Down” is one of the smartest, most interesting episodes of South Park to have graced us in years. Not only are there some genuinely funny moments and a great animation sequence towards the end of the episode, but “Doubling Down” manages to masterfully interweave comedy with expertly executed social commentary. If you’re looking for the perfect analogy of the current state of America, this episode is for you.
I’ve mentioned previously that the relationship between Heidi and Cartman is difficult to watch and for multiple reasons. When the two first got together, Heidi essentially held Cartman back from his terrible ways, thus making for boring television. Now, the ruthless old Cartman is back in action. Throughout the season, we have witnessed Cartman being outwardly despicable, manipulative, and downright menacing to his poor girlfriend. “Doubling Down” takes all of this to a new level of uncomfortable. This is the Cartman we all love to hate and have been missing.
Arguably, “Doubling Down” is the cruelest we have seen Cartman since he tricked Scott Tenorman into eating his own parents. It’s funny to think the simple notion of an abusive relationship is more unsettling than grinding your enemy’s parents into chili. Cartman can literally kill people and not come off as despicable as he does in this episode because abusive relationships happen so often and to so many people the episode hits closer to home. It’s relatable and therefore more scary.
While Cartman’s actions towards Heidi are certainly the focal point of the episode, all of this is a blatant allegory for the political atmosphere currently plaguing America. “Doubling Down” is largely a commentary on Trump’s quickly deteriorating popularity and the defensiveness of his supporters.
The more Heidi is told Cartman is terrible, the more defensive she becomes. Is she stupid? Of course not. Cartman came into her life when she was at a low point. He seemed like a fix for her problems. After some reflection she can clearly see Cartman is awful, but when she is constantly ridiculed for the mistake of dating him, she refuses to prove her mockers right. This desire to maintain dignity makes her more vulnerable to Cartman’s manipulative nature and thus fall victim to the cycle of abuse. She would rather remain in a toxic, manipulative relationship than endure the constant ridicule of her peers.
All of this is juxtaposed with sequences featuring President Garrison abusing his subordinates, obviously drawing a parallel to Cartman’s abuse of Heidi.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t being vague here. They assert firmly that yes, President Garrison (Donald Trump) is a dangerous idiot to most people, but making people who did vote for Garrison (Trump) constantly the butt of some joke only makes them double down on their stances. To these voters, he had appeared at a time of vulnerability and preyed on that weakness, just as Cartman has done to Heidi.
What’s so interesting is that no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall under, the narrative refrains from attacking one specific group more than the other. Garrison voters (Trump supporters) are viewed as dumb, but sympathetic. To Trey and Matt, yes, they made a dumb decision, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are stupid people. To contrast the supporters, those who voted against Garrison from the start lack empathy and refuse to abandon the attitude of “I told you so”. With an issue like this, it would be easy to take one side, but in typical South Park fashion, everyone is on the receiving end of criticism.
The show asserts that right now, we are all in an abusive relationship with Mr. Garrison (Trump). “Doubling Down” is quick to remind us that the more we antagonize people for realizing a mistake and coming forward, the more likely they are to go back to their abuser.
Featured image from South Park Archives
South Park Season 21, Episode 7: "Doubling Down"
“Doubling Down” is both funny and brilliant. It’s interesting to see South Park handle the toxicity of abusive relationships in such a powerful manner while simultaneously making a socially relevant point.